After nearly 20 years of planning and over a year of working out the financial details, the town received 19 bids to the build a new library, ranging from a low of $2.9 million to a high of $4.4 million.
Although town officials had expected bids to come in high, sober faces dominated the council meeting room as the bids were opened on Sept. 16.
“I thought things looked good when the first bid opened was for $2.9 million,” said Councilman Robert Kickey. “But the figures just kept going up after that one.”
The town bonded for the purchase of the land at 1377 Paterson Plank Road two years ago. After buying the land, the town had about $1.4 million left. Combining this with the $1 million the library trustees had set aside, town officials hoped the library could be constructed for about $2.5 million. But the range of bids has made officials slightly nervous.
Architect John Capazzi, who presented the original plans to the library trustees in January, spent the summer going over detailed changes in the interior and exterior construction, estimating the price would be about $3 million. Town officials had hoped that the cost would come in well below that, though in August they set aside an additional $500,000 in capital outlay as insurance against a higher-than-expected cost.
“We had hoped to get a bid between $2.5 million and $3 million,” Town Administrator Anthony Iacono said. “While it is possible for us to accept the low bid, if that bid is not acceptable, we can’t afford the next bid at $3.1 million. We would have to go out and re-bid the project.”
Iacono said the strong economy may be responsible for the high bids. “They have a lot of work, so they can afford to set higher prices for projects like this,” Iacono said.
Iacono said if the town has to re-bid the project, it might also have to create new specifications that would create options. These would be a series of items that could be left off to reduce the overall cost.
“We could also make substitutions,” Iacono said. “We could ask for a different kind of material for the roof or the facing.”
Iacono said when the original financial estimates were made, the Town Council did not yet have the finished blueprints from which the final bid specifications were developed.
“People added things all the time,” he said. “But we can still go with this project if we can certify that we have the funds.”
Will be reviewed
The lower bid will be reviewed by the architect and the town attorney over the next week, both of whom will check out references, the quality of previously projects and other details to see if they meet the basic standard as lowest qualified bidder.
Re-bidding, however, can be risky, said Mayor Dennis Elwell, who still has to look over the details of the bids and then present the matter to the full council. By re-bidding, the economy could grow even stronger and the town could be faced with a similar situation as the high school construction project faced in the mid-1970s. Back then, voters rejected two of three bonds to build the school, forcing the school board to strip off many of the original components of the project such as the school auditorium. By the time the voters approved the bond, the project costs remained as high as the original, but many items in the original project were never built.
Iacono said if all bids are rejected, the town could go out to bid again within 30 days. If the Town Council agrees to increase the capital budget to award one of the 19 bids submitted this week, the council could award the contract within the same time period.
“Whatever we do will have to be a decision of the governing body,” Elwell said. “We have some serious decisions to make. If the project is within our reach, it might be wiser for us to continue rather than wait and re-bid. Even if we cut things out and the economy stays strong, we might still have bids coming in too high.” Iacono said the Town Council has another option.
“We could hold the project up for another six months and hope the state will provide us with the extra money,” he said.
Last month, Gov. Christine Whitman announced a plan that would provide libraries around the state with some money toward expansion. But she did not provide details and the legislature has yet to fund the program. “If we wait, however, that will delay the project for more than a year,” he said.
Library Director Katherine Steffens said she could not comment on the bidding process since that aspect of the project was entirely in the hands of the Town Council
“The library trustees approved the layout of the interior, the Town Council is responsible for constructing the building,” she said. “Beyond that, I cannot comment.”